Douglas D. Osheroff, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Understanding the Columbia Space Shuttle Accident
On February 1, 2003, the NASA space shuttle Columbia broke
apart during re-entry over East Texas at an altitude of 200,000 feet and a
velocity of approximately 12,000 mph. All aboard perished. Prof. Osheroff was a
member of the board that investigated the origins of this accident, both
physical and organizational. In his talk he will describe how the board was able
to determine with almost absolute certainty the physical cause of the accident.
In addition, Prof. Osheroff will discuss its organizational and cultural causes, which are rooted deep in the culture of the human spaceflight program. Why did NASA continue to fly the shuttle system despite the persistent failure of a vital sub-system that it should have known did indeed pose a safety risk on every flight?